Repair Shop Owner Who Supposedly Had Hunter Biden's Laptop Sues Twitter For Defamation… Has Lawsuit Tossed The Same Day

from the about-that... dept

As basically a million people mentioned to me, on Monday, John Paul Mac Isaac, computer repair shop owner, sued Twitter for defamation. You may recall his name as the computer repair shop guy who allegedly had Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop, which later became a NY Post story. That story then became a content moderation story, as both Twitter and Facebook sought to limit the spread of the story. In Twitter’s case, the company claimed that it violated the social media site’s policy against linking to “hacked materials.”

As we noted at the time, this Twitter policy had been in place for a while and was already controversial in how it had shut down accounts that were clearly doing journalism based on hacked documents. Twitter later changed its policy regarding hacked materials, in large part due to the controversy over this story.

When I was first pointed to the lawsuit, I assumed that like nearly all defamation lawsuits against Twitter, it was actually about posts by users (which would be clearly barred by Section 230). The lawsuit is ridiculous, but it’s ridiculous in a different way. Isaac was not suing over user speech on Twitter, but over Twitter’s decision to refer to that material as “hacked,” which he claimed defamed his reputation, and made people think he was a hacker.

Defendant’s Distribution of Hacked Materials Policy (“Hacked Materials Policy”) defines a “hack” as “an intrusion or access of a computer, network, or electronic device that was unauthorized or exceeded authorized access….

The Hacked Materials Policy further defines “hacked materials” as “information obtained through a hack.”

Defendant’s actions and statements had the specific intent to communicate to the world that Plaintiff is a hacker.

According to Merriam-Webster, a “hacker” is “a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system.”

The term “hacker” is widely viewed as disparaging, particularly when said about someone who owns a computer repair business.

Plaintiff is not a hacker and the information obtained from the computer does not hacked materials because Plaintiff lawfully gained access to the computer, first with the permission of its owner, BIDEN, and then, after BIDEN failed to retrieve the hard drive despite Plaintiff’s requests, in accordance with the Mac Shop’s abandoned property policy.

Plaintiff, as a direct result of Defendant’s actions and statements, is now widely considered a hacker….

So… there’s a lot to unpack here, but basically none of this makes sense. As the complaint itself notes, Twitter has a very broad definition of hacked materials, and at no point suggested that Isaac himself was a “hacker.” The policy was applied to the materials, which Twitter (for good reasons) deemed to have been private material that was not meant for public consumption. Also, if your defamation complaint is focusing on a dictionary definition, you’re probably already in trouble. And, to make matters worse, the complaint leaves out the other definitions of “hacker” in the Merriam-Webster definition, including the one directly above the definition they cited (they chose the 4th one), which also says a hacker can be “an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer” which seems like a positive thing for a computer repair shop owner.

But, even beyond that… the whole thrust of the lawsuit is garbage. About the only thing going for it is the fact that it’s not trying to hold Twitter liable for the speech of a user. Of course, even though it is actually focused (obliquely) on Twitter’s own speech, the company still might be protected by Section 230, because the speech in question was part of Twitter’s efforts to moderate — meaning that it might be a rare case where Section 230’s infamous (c)(2) clause mattered. But even without Section 230, Twitter’s speech here would be protected under the 1st Amendment.

Either way, for now at least, none of this matters, because the lawsuit was tossed out hours later for jurisdictional issues. For a case to be in federal court over state law issues (defamation is a state law), it has to have diversity (meaning all of the parties need to be in different states). However, here, both Isaac and Twitter are technically in Delaware (Twitter is registered as a Delaware company). Thus, no diversity, and no jurisdiction in federal court:

The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff is a resident of Delaware and that Defendant is a Delaware corporation ?with an office in Dade County, Florida.?… The sole basis for subject matter jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship…. For a court to have diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), ?all plaintiffs must be diverse from all defendants.?… Thus, accepting the Complaint?s allegations as true, the Complaint fails to allege complete diversity. Therefore, the Court is without subject matter jurisdiction over the instant action.

It’s possible that Isaac can refile in state court. Or he could try to claim diversity by arguing that Twitter is really a California based company (given that’s where its headquarters are). The statement about it having offices in Florida is just… weird and unimportant. But even if refiled somehow, this case is a losing proposition and a clear SLAPP suit.

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Comments on “Repair Shop Owner Who Supposedly Had Hunter Biden's Laptop Sues Twitter For Defamation… Has Lawsuit Tossed The Same Day”

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20 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

What a mess.

Two things I note:

which also says a hacker can be "an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer" which seems like a positive thing for a computer repair shop owner.

"Hacker, Hacking, Hacked Material". I don’t see where Isaac had a lot of leeway in vocabulary choices.

In insisting that "Hacker" could be a good label to apply to a computer repair shop owner, perhaps you should ask about a bit first. Perhaps seeing that someone filed a (crappy SLAPP) suit for defamation would indicate that for this particular shop owner, "Hacker" is not a business-positive label.

And the fact that you point out an alternate definition for "Hacker" kinda makes the point that the definition being used needed to be spelled out in the suit.

2) the suit was not filed pro se. The lawyers (both local counsel Harvin and Harvin and Maryland’s Compass Law Partners) should get schooled for this. Isaac already has been (in the form of lawyer fees, filing fees, etc).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What a mess.

Yeah, that’s a rather stupid point on the part of the article author. Twitter’s "hacked materials" policy is very clearly using the definition in the lawsuit, not the positive definition.

Words can mean different things. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the context and say "well, it really could have meant anything."

Bloof (profile) says:

Sorry John, you destroyed whatever reputation you had by going through and reading the contents of a client’s computer then handing that data to multiple other parties. Enjoy your two months of fame on the right wing grift circuit as nobody’s going to trust you enough to hire you after this or knowingly give work to any company you own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Just claiming that he passed on information from a customers laptop is sufficient to destroy trust in him. It does not matter whether he did, is claiming somebody else’s exploit, or just made up the emails that he passed on, his bid for fame has destroyed the trust needed by someone who repairs computers..

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

I don’t think think “Supposedly” is useful. There’s little doubt from all parties involved that the source laptop is genuine.

The question is why he (or his lawyers) are focusing on the hacker aspect. He may have a leg to stand on with a focus on the false report aspect. The hacking someone else’s laptop aspect.
May.
Every major news source from WaPo on the far left to Breitbart on far right knowingly published disinformation during 2020. I don’t think any court wants to open up the fake news can of worms. He’s not going to get very fat with any judge right now.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Tony Bobulinski; Hunter’s former partner has confirmed the emails and messages are from/to Hunter Biden. He has also provided cell phones and tertiary emails that match some found on the laptop.

Again very few on either side still claim any doubt on the laptop. The question is if Joe Biden was directly involved in what the emails reveal.

Not that that is all that important to the matter at hand. Why he is going for defamation over hacker. When he may actually have a case over the claim he did something nefarious; he’s unlikely to get much sympathy over the term hacker. Most computer techs have no issue with the term. It’s one of the primary services offered by shops. Recovering lost or deleted files. By its very nature that’s hacking.
It’s the custody/ownership at issue.

But I just don’t see any judge wanting to take a case about news facts in the current climate. If there’s any cause to decline or dismiss a case they’ll take it and run.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

When he may actually have a case over the claim he did something nefarious; he’s unlikely to get much sympathy over the term hacker. Most computer techs have no issue with the term. It’s one of the primary services offered by shops. Recovering lost or deleted files. By its very nature that’s hacking.

You’re conflating the different meanings of the word. The meaning in question is about illicitly gaining entry into a computer system without the consent of its owner or operator. Something a computer repair tech might not want to be known for.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I follow. Actually that’s somewhat my point. The fact is that the laptop was his by both store policy and by Abandonment law.

The minimal initial coverage tended to hide or ignore that. He didn’t hack H Biden’s laptop. H hacked a laptop former belonging to H Biden.

I also agree it’s a money grab. He was denounced in most media as a Russian agent or a criminal; or both. He has plenty of places to pursue being wronged. He chose the one avenue that isn’t going to work.

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